Work continues.

I have submitted one new story (Boots for the Goddess/Sexy Sailors anthology) and should know sometime in the near future.

I have returned my second round of edits on First Flight, hooray hooray. Can’t wait to see the prospective cover art… Part of me wants to poke at the editing staff, wanting to know WHEN WHEN WHEN, the rest of me knows it’s not polite and it will be done when it will be done.

And now I think I’m going to go to sleep.

I’m always the odd one out.

A lot of authors view their stories as children–referring to them as their babies, their editors as midwives, etc. I’ve never felt that way. I don’t even feel that way about First Flight, or at least not as completely and consumingly as others seem to.

Yes, I love First Flight more than any of my works to date; yes, I want everyone else to love it (and Chris and Jesse) as much as I do. I’m not even sick of editing it, yet!

I know that it’s utterly unrealistic to expect that everyone will adore it, and I honestly don’t. As with Tobias’s Own, I can see where there are rough spots, where there are weak places, where I could/could have do/done more. I know my baby is like any other baby: kind of funny-looking. I hope, though, that if people give it a little while to dry off and for the down to gain some loft that they’ll see what I see.

Another place where I am the odd one out is when it comes to being intimidated by the blank page. I think it’s because I almost never open up a blank document without being ready to write something–it’s blank when I open it, but it won’t be for long.

Now, getting stuck and staring at the blank space that follows whatever I last wrote, trying desperately to figure out what comes next? Yeah, that’s tough.

My browsing history is a little suspect.

I have results for ethylene glycol poisoning, phlebotomy equipment, testing for ethylene glycol poisoning, and poison control centers of America. I also have the poison control jingle stuck in my head, so it’s at least effective on that count. (I do own a copy of the handbook of poisons, but it’s somewhere in a box in another state, at the moment. And I don’t know if it would tell me how much blood is needed to run an ethylene glycol assay, anyway. From what I’ve turned up, it looks like it only requires about a teaspoon (5 mL.)

I’m actually doing research, though whether or not the story will ever be published remains to be seen. My poor character has been having a tough life as a were-creature, and now that he seems to have found stability–and even a family, though some of them are no longer alive–he’s been poisoned. (I know who, how, and why, too, which is a huge achievement. Normally I have crimes and investigators but no idea about any of the rest of it.)

I think that my number-one weird research query will forever be “do birds burp?” (The consensus I got from a local bird-care group: not unless they’re ill, no.)

In honor of Banned Books Week…

I’m going to commit atrocities on classics! I mean, I’m going to use passages from classics to which people have objected to illustrate the necessity of adjectives and adverbs. If you’d rather just learn more about Banned Books Week, the American Library Association has all you’d ever care to know right here.

So, I’ve taken the liberty of removing all adjectives and adverbs (as well as a few articles) from the following passage.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long–having money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about and see the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing the mouth; whenever it is November in my soul; whenever I find myself pausing before warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and whenever my hypos get me, that it requires principle to prevent me from stepping into the street, and knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Old Melville’s writing may not be for everyone, but that’s just…horrible. There are places where it makes no sense, and places where it says the exact opposite of what is actually true for the character. While it conveys the same general idea, it’s just not quite right.

Here’s the original:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such and upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Now we know that Ishmael’s run out of cash and, being rather bored and having nothing and no one depending on him, decides to run away to sea again. We now know what’s so compelling about the warehouses he’s loitering around, what he’s growing, and even the bit about the hats is somewhat more amusing. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) Not only is it November in his soul, it’s a damp, drizzly November. If you’ve ever experienced a damp, drizzly November, you can appreciate how he must be feeling. (If you haven’t, they’re about as much fun as they sound.)

Adjectives and adverbs help the reader fill in the gaps. A fiction writer’s job is to hand the reader the bricks (characters, plot-points) and the mortar (descriptions, setting, atmosphere, theme, tone) in such a way that the reader may reconstruct the story you are telling as effortlessly as possible.

Take a look at any of your favorite scenes from any of your favorite books. It doesn’t matter what kind of a scene it is–action, sex, maybe just two people chatting in a kitchen. Five will get you ten that a big part of what you get out of that scene comes from the way the author used adjectives and adverbs. If the scene was merely a recitation of the things within it, or if one character merely recapped it for another without letting you see it, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective or affecting. It wouldn’t be your favorite scene.

An Illuminating Example

To see something that would be irrevocably harmed by the elimination of adjectives and adverbs, go here, click on “Read First Chapter For Free”, and read through at least the line that ends “…through a broken window and out into the alleys.”

There’s no way you could write anything half as effective as that prose without adjectives or adverbs.

You can have my… Revisited

I am, for the most part, a decent kind of person. I don’t start flame wars, I don’t pile on when other people do, I stay away from sites and topics that make me want to throttle someone.

Today, however, I have come across two different sites that said the same thing–DON’T USE ADJECTIVES OR YOU SUCK!!!!11212!ehjouhe–and I have been having a very hard time maintaining my usual even demeanor.

One of the sites had collected five quotes from Stephen King and claimed they were five that all writers should take to heart. I really don’t know how King’s fondness for putting Junior Mints on a toothpick in the movie theater will make my writing better, but then again, I like editors so what do I know?

The very first King quote was “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”. The author of the article gleefully joins the chorus of adverbial hate, without (as usual) bothering to offer suggestions, options, definitions, or even examples. (Also, I noticed that the author of the article did not manage to avoid using an adverb. I did not leave a comment pointing that out.)

The second site I came across is written by “an award-winning author”, though I didn’t bother looking to see what award it was. While the author’s name is unfamiliar to me, that means nothing — I probably wouldn’t recognize this year’s Caldecott Medal winner’s name, either. This author is offering an A-to-Z list of “writing tips”, and right there in the As is “Adjectives”.

“Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly”, Author says, and I just heard you pull that muscle, you rolled your eyes so hard. Here, have an ice pack.

On top of that, in the Ds is “Description”. Author offers examples of passive and active descriptions, but the thing about Author’s examples? Mm-hm. Dripping with adjectives. Seven adjectives and four adverbs in the passive/short example; eighteen adjectives and three adverbs in the longer. And that’s not even counting the prepositional phrases–as they tell you where, they function like adjectives. (Also, there’s a subject-verb disagreement in the second example, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Again, I have not left a comment on that, though I am sorely tempted. After all, if I’m following the advice from Adjectives, then I cannot also follow the advice from Description, can I? They seem to be mutually exclusive.

Sure, there are good reasons not to lard your prose with every adjective and adverb under the sun, but to declare war on them wholesale is pretty much defeating the purpose of writing.

I’m not trying to recite a grocery list, when I write. I am trying to show you the pictures in my head, to bring what I hear and see into being with the admittedly limited medium of the English language. When I see a hot, dusty street, crowded with bodies and all manner of animals, in my head, I don’t want to sit down and write something like, oh, this:

Area: 50 square meters
Population: 2,015
Animals: 110
Temperature: 95 F
Chance Precipitation (percent): .005
Heat index: 115 F

(Numbers are adjectives, by the way — they tell how many.)

You could do something like this, which keeps the numbers:

Two thousand and fifteen people stood in fifty square meters. They were accompanied by a half-dozen dogs, twelve wildebeest, sixteen Guernsey cows (all pregnant), seventy-five parakeets and one very confused-looking penguin. The ambient temperature was 95 degres fahrenheit and rising precipitously. The chance of rainfall was less than five thousandths of one percent. The dew-point was listed as twelve degrees fahrenheit. The heat index was one hundred fifteen.

Or you could just give in and do this, instead:

The narrow street pressed friends and enemies closer than anyone really wanted to be. The smell of cattle and dogs mingled with the scent of humanity and their varied wares, a cloying combination that lingered in clothing even after one made their escape from the area. The merciless sky held nothing more than the sun, not even a wisp of teasing cloud, not even a bird.

Which of those makes you want to keep reading? Which of those rings of story, of potential adventures and heartache and maybe even something funny? I’m going to take a wild guess and strike the first example from the list.

And that is why I refuse to give up on adjectives. And why I refuse to take writing advice from people who actively refuse to be edited, but mostly the former.

Fun With Blurbs

Got my suggested blurb for First Flight today. I’m still not sure how I like it, so I’m letting it simmer for a day or so. It doesn’t include the blurb I’ve been using, but as that one is short and rather lacking in details, I don’t mind. (Said blurb: A story about a boy, a bird, and the everyday magic of love. I love it, but…yeah. Vague.)

I should have the second round of edits sometime in the near future, after which is galley time, and then pre-release jitters. In the mean-time, in-between time, I’ve got other stuff to occupy my time. Like, say, poking the ending of Boots into something I like better and then sending it away to Mr. Plakcy.

What do you mean, “That’s not what we meant”?

Why saying what you mean is vital.

So I was poking around on the Kohl’s website and ended up at the Homecoming landing page. In addition to the rather…interesting…photoshop job on the girls at the top of the picture, the bottom of the page presented me with the above. It says “Shop teen guys”, and there’s a picture of a Timberlake-esque blond guy who looks like he’s about 24 (but I’m terrible with estimating ages; I have no idea how old he actually is).

When writing ad copy, it’s vitally important to eliminate as much ambiguity as possible, as well as to say what you mean. Yes, most people will properly add “clothing” to ‘Shop teen guys’; but the rest of us smartasses are making jokes about complaining that they don’t carry the dude we’re looking for.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Or you could just hum along, I’m not picky.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that’s not true at all: I am picky, and about odd things. This time, I’m piqued by the “heat ratings” of a potential publisher, because once again same-sex interaction (limited to bisexuals and lesbians; five will get you ten the bisexuals they’re thinking of aren’t men) is relegated to the highest level.

I’m horribly, terribly tempted to write to them and ask if one of my mild/sweet stories featuring nothing more than guys kissing really would require the same labeling as my unfinished deeply explicit M/M/F BDSM story. Ask them why it’s apparently impossible for them to separate “same-sex” from “explicit”.

To use my favorite example of the moment, the end of Chapter Eight of The Slipstream Con is blisteringly hot, achingly beautiful, and completely lacking in ‘vulgar’ details. It features one kiss (between two men) and implicit/implied straight sex — but only the kiss is described in any sort of detail. Does that make it worthy of the highest heat rating?

I know that everyone gets to choose their categories, and to run their railroads as they see fit — but I’d like to see some justification for their choices, particularly when they use wording that makes their motives appear suspect. (That is, I suspect the reasoning goes like this: “hawt lesbians and hawt bi girls = AWESOME!; bi guys (which are urban legends), unattractive lesbians, and gay guys (all flaming screaming queens) = must be hidden under the rug thanks”. Unfair? Oh yes indeed, which is why I’d like the clarification.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write about two university-age naga boys holding hands and smiling shyly at one another… #possiblygayYA-fantasy #notTHATkindoffantasy